Guest Perspective

The Mastery of Mastery:
Land and Water in California in the Twenty-First Century

By Stephanie Pincetl

Visiting Professor, Insitute of the Environment,
and Acting Director of the Urban Center for People and the Environment
University of California at Los Angeles.

This speech was given before the Public Officials for Water and Environmnental Reform Conference, October 9-10, 2002, at the Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles, California. It is posted here with Professor Pincetl's permission.

Carey McWilliams, many years ago today, dubbed California the Great Exception and, indeed, it remains so. We live in a state that has some of the greatest land concentrations in the world, farms whose size rival Latin American latifundias, assembled out of the legacy of the Spanish land grants supporting an agricultural system that utilizes a sophisticated and deadly mix of pesticides, herbicides and machinery—factories in the fields—to produce much of the nation’s produce, as well as cotton, alfalfa, rice, and other water-hungry crops in the arid Central and Imperial Valleys using imported labor. And to make it possible, we have one of the most far-reaching water transportation systems on the globe, paid for by the taxpayers.

These former Spanish land grants, now the Irvine Company, Santa Margarita Ranch Company, Newhall Ranch and Tejon, to name a few in our backyards, are also some of the largest real estate developers in the world, and would-be real estate developers in the Central Valley, transforming hundreds of thousands of acres into residential neighborhoods, malls, industrial parks, parking lots and pavement, with plans for more development to meet the needs for the unrelenting pace of demographic growth. For these land uses, including agriculture, we have built water purveyance systems requiring huge amounts of energy for water conveyance, its purification, distribution, collection, treatment and disposal. The state’s water regimen has been dramatically replumbed through human agency, moving water from the north to the south, from the east to the west.

Tonight I would like to talk to you about three interrelated topics: the state’s political institutions and structures of resource management and the imperative need to integrate land management with water management, our mastery of the state’s water regime and the concept of the mastery of mastery, and the rise of the market ideology.

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